by Marn Norwich
I moved to Vancouver 22 years ago with my sister, with little more than a manuscript of short stories, stashed under my airplane seat. We knew one person in British Columbia. We did not have jobs, and we weren’t students. We realized very quickly that to create our visions of fulfilling our purpose, we were also going to have to create community — from scratch. We could not flourish in a vacuum, and we were intent on flourishing. We were goal-driven, passionate young women, and we poured the same intensity into our community-creation project as we had our university degrees and artistic endeavors. If I thought it would be easy, it wasn’t: the experience was like working toward a whole new BA.
Most people would agree that community is a fundamental element in a good life. You know the refrain: Our roots are communal; our deep history led us from caves to forests and plains, always in community. And the chorus: If community was once the element that made life possible at the most basic level, now it is more necessary than ever to sustaining our spirits during our era of individuation.
Yet when we refer to community, we use banal language, flat words like “networking”, “involvement”, “resources”. These words serve a function, but they seem to chronically understate the astonishing power of community to connect us to each other and ourselves at a core level. Community is the ground-moving strength of the tribe that surrounds us in this time and place, the magical power of good intention, the alchemy of shared vision, the hope of one-hundred-thousand stars, the infinite possibilities of love in action.
Community gives us an opportunity to get to know the other spirits here with us on this epic journey, to merge with the thrum of life, to live our lives to their absolute fullest, to share the best of ourselves over the broadest spectrum, to know ourselves better through others’ wisdom and to truly know others — one of the hugest of privileges.
When I began to cultivate the art of community-building at age 26, it would have surprised me to know the number of different communities I would live, work and play in over the following decades. Each one has arisen out of a different circumstance, from serendipity to street signs, and in forms as varied as an inner-city commune, single-mother support group and a house-full of Greenpeace boys.
I discovered that my capacity to build community has as much to do with intention as legwork. Most fun, I cannot predict what or who will provide the link to my next community. During solitary periods, these communities were often about to explode into my viewfinder. This knowledge makes me wish I could return to my younger self and assure her that the life-bringing connections she needed to sustain herself in this sometimes-isolating new world were right there, just beyond the hoax of time.